Sunday, December 3, 2006

‘Course’ Corrections

‘Childhood’ needs to be sensitively revisited & rethought

It is an irony that I get to meet the ‘future of India’ every day at each and every traffic signal of New Delhi. I’m sure, like me, all of us are mute spectators to the way the posterity of India are buying their respective future by selling the present, day in and day out. For, the children who physically manage to stand on their feet are found selling flowers, balloons, books or cheap gadgets. And those who can’t even manage that, hang around the waists of their moms or elder siblings and learn the art of begging even before they learn how to crawl. For the self-proclaimed moral police and other social over-enthusiasts, begging is an unpardonable vice and must be conclusively controlled and discouraged. Well that’s a wonderful thought but what I’ve always failed to understand is this dominant logic: if the deprived don’t beg then what else would they do? And phut comes the handy and heedful reply – ‘the State should take the responsibility to educate and empower these children’. The self-evident fact is, the state of affairs in education sector is so devastatingly bleak even for the common children, that to even think of educating and empowering the underprivileged sounds farcical and freakish at the same time.

The absurdity is that there are around 194 million children (6 to 14 years) and of them, 7 million are out of schools. And for the children enrolled in primary schools, only 79% make it till class V. Again, only 71% of these enrol for lower secondary, while an abysmal 40% reach secondary level. This is one facet of the problem. For the children who manage to stay back in schools, there are other set of problems. Firstly, most of our schools particularly in the rural and semi urban areas function without teachers and even if there are teachers, they are either unionised or just don’t teach. And in some extraordinary school, in some rare moment even if they decide to teach, then the inputs (syllabus, pedagogy etc) are so obscure and disconnected that the very quintessence of education and spirit of learning are lost. The theatre of absurdities does not end here. Children are then asked to take an examination upon this imparted obscurity and that to under such unusual conditions that many end up suffering from personality disorders resulting in suicides. And just in case they come out safe and alive from the system, then higher institutions are waiting for them, wherein admissions are based on select invalid, unreliable and obscure indicators and quotients called marks. And then again, admissions are not guaranteed with good scores as ‘reservations’ wait for the final kill. Thanks to the intellectual filicide in the extant education system it is equally and extremely difficult for one to make out who is in a better stage – the ‘not-so-educated’ or the ‘so-called-educated’ ones. As the children of India perish standing either at traffic signals or sitting and listening to didactic doctrinaire, there is no reason why our policy makers cannot think beyond flowery policy alternatives for a blossoming future. Pandit Nehru, where are you?


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